Nashville. Anaheim. For many casual sports fans, those two cities don't exactly represent the sports haven of, say, New York and Chicago. Even hockey fans removed from the intensity of the Western Conference playoff race may scoff at the battle between the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks. And by using the first round's national TV schedule as a judge, Preds vs. Ducks isn't considered an eye-grabbing affair.
However, this could be the Western Conference's best match-up -- possibly in even the entire league. It's a shame that corporate marketing and TV networks are dictating first-round exposure because so many people will miss this series outside of a decisive Game 7.
As it stands, here are five reasons why you should find a buddy with Center Ice, NHL GameCenter, or, um, some other online streaming means (legitimate, of course) to catch this series.
Strength vs. Strength: Anaheim's stretch run vaulted Corey Perry into the Hart Trophy discussion, and it became clear that his line with Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan was one of the best -- if not the very best -- line in the second half of the NHL season. That trio will strike fear in just about any team, and yet the opposition proves to be intriguiing for this opening-round match-up.
There's no doubt that Nashville's will try to match Anaheim's top line with their All-Star caliber blueline pair in Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. And to round it out, Barry Trotz has his option of shutdown centers: either Mike Fisher or David Legwand. The old sports cliche of "You can't stop them, you can only hope to contain them" may be true with Getzlaf/Perry/Ryan but with the defensive options at Nashville's disposal, this is an intriguing battle of one team's strength against another.
Teemu Selanne: The Finnish Flash can probably count the amount of his detractors on one hand. At 40, Selanne is still going strong with 31 goals and 80 points for another stellar season. When Anaheim won the Stanley Cup back in 2007, the question was whether or not Selanne will return.
He's been taking it one year at a time, and while he's obviously capable on the ice, that doesn't necessarily mean that he'll have another go at it. Whether or not this year turns out to be Selanne's true swansong, his career will close sooner rather than later. His remarkable speed and skill deserve to be recognized by hockey fans all over, and what better showcase for that than the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Anaheim's goaltending saga: Hey, did you hear the one about the goalie who came back from a Bo Jackson-like injury and exile in Russia to power his team back into the playoffs? Oh, and he got hurt again too? Yeah, that's Ray Emery, he of the extraordinary comeback and mysterious lower-body injury that will keep him out of at least Game 1 of the series.
In his place? Dan Ellis -- a fellow who knows a little bit about the Nashville Predators, seeing that he split duties in Nashville for three seasons only to lose his job to some fellow named Pekka Rinne. And that's not even including the lost Vezina-caliber season of Jonas Hiller. Speaking of Vezina-caliber seasons...
Pekka Rinne: Roberto Luongo, Tim Thomas, and Henrik Lundqvist get most of the NHL's goaltending spotlight, but Pekka Rinne has quite the case for the Vezina trophy. Rinne's spectacular numbers are just behind Thomas', but there's no doubting that he's been in the top tier of goaltenders this season. The first round of the playoffs have seen their share of stolen series thanks to goaltending (think Jaroslav Halak last year or the aforementioned Hiller the year prior); Rinne's certainly got the chops to be one of those stories this season.
Pure physical intensity: Forget the names, logos, and the colors. You want the physicality and speed of playoff hockey? These two teams will deliver. As promised, Barry Trotz' Predators are once again a tenacious group that combines gritty forechecking and speed; while their numbers may not be flashy, you can bet that they'll be going into every corner at full speed.
And the Anaheim Ducks? Well, they may not be the big, bad Ducks of the Chris Pronger era, but coach Randy Carlyle still has his squad playing a physical game (fourth overall in total PIMs). When your scoring leader is Corey Perry (98 points, 104 PIMs), you know that these guys aren't afraid to mix it up.
Add in the trademark intensity of the Stanley Cup playoffs and you've got the makings for a brutal and highly entertaining series. It's just a shame that Versus doesn't think so.